We're still a few hours away from the release of "Madden NFL 2008" (Aug. 14), but EA Sports has a pretty good appetizer with its excellent "NCAA Football 08" game for all platforms (3 stars out of 4).
EA gets beaten up every year by folks who say it simply updates rosters and re-releases its sports game, but you can tell some work has gone into NCAA this year.
The thing looks better and plays faster than last year, noticeably so. Player models are cleaner and animations are pretty much spot on. Players do still appear to "merge" and move through each other sometimes, but you'll notice running backs reaching out to follow their blockers and not sticking to them. You will see true running motions and multiple tackle animations, which adds to the realism.
I tried the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions and would give the latter the nod in terms of clarity, especially on an HDTV, but it looks great on the 360, too. And if you're into the dynasty mode, where you run your team over a series of seasons, you're going to love this. You can recruit players and the game will limit how long you can talk to them. And true to life, better programs like Notre Dame and Southern Cal have an easier time getting great players than North Carolina or Wake Forest.
Even better, a new Campus Legend mode lets you become a high school phenom and run up your numbers in state playoff games and then choose your school. Now that's cool. This is the best football game on the market, trumping 2KSports' "All Pro Football," which is hurt by somewhat anemic graphics and lack of real teams and stadiums.
PlayStation 3 price drops
Amazing what a little price drop can do.After Sony discounted its PlayStation 3 by $100 last month, dipping to $499, sales shot up more than 135 percent at Sony's top five retailers.
I think $500 is the magic number for Sony, which still plans to release another $599 PlayStation with a larger hard drive this month (not so smart) and a slew of new games this fall and into 2008 (quite brilliant).
But $600 is too much, even for a game unit that comes with a built-in Blu-Ray disc player. It's just hard to plunk down that much money for a game system.
Check the numbers.
In June, the PlayStation 3 sold just 98,500 units, far behind the other two big console game systems: the Nintendo Wii (381,800) and Xbox 360 (198,400).
But the NPD Group, which tracks industry trends, thinks PS3 is now on track to meet its sales forecasts but will remain behind Wii and the 360 in sales until at least the middle of next year, when Sony begins to release the bulk of its new PS3 game titles. Sony would be wise to remain aggressive on pricing, though, because as more people try the unit -- especially its base of installed PS2 devotees -- they will discover that it's the best of the three next-gen systems. By far.
A challenge for Xbox 360
Microsoft is dealing with defective 360s and dealing with an important holiday season. Xbox 360 will need late-fall release "Halo 3" to drive a really strong holiday sales season to hold onto second place behind the Wii. The NPD Group believes, as I do, that if a heavy holiday season doesn't push Xbox hard (and Sony keeps its aggressive pricing), Microsoft may find itself in a distant third position come the first quarter of 2008.
Consider that in 2007, Nintendo has shipped more than 6 million Wii systems, Sony more than 4 million PS3s. Microsoft has moved just more than 1 million 360s. Video Games
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